We need more parties, don’t we? Well, I know I do, especially Jane Austen parties! Other people have ventured opinions on this topic. 99% of them involve a) tea, b) watching movies, or c) both. I’m in favor of all three of these activities (well, duh), but I do think we could broaden our horizons here, venture across the ha-ha, as it were.
Basic steps: This write-up has some good ideas, including period card games, period snacks, and trivia. Be warned that you are venturing into weirder territory here than you know, as Miss Osborne’s cooking experiments have shown us. Stick to syllabub, is my advice. As far as card games go, I love them, but Miss Austen did not, or at any rate none of her heroines did. So if you play them, stick to the more “comfortable, noisy” games, like Speculation, and avoid Whist as all costs. Whist (the precursor of Bridge) is bo-ring, both in Mansfield Park and in my experience. Still, you get good discussions around the card table, and good insights into people’s characters, the Crawfords’ in particular.
Crafty steps: While “painting tables, covering screens, and netting purses” may draw derision from Mr. Darcy, I am all in favor of “cutting up silk and gold paper” as the girls do in Persuasion, and crafts in general. Here’s some Regency party craft ideas.
Ballsy steps: Lots of places have Regency balls, where you can be spurned by Mr. Darcy and overhear Mr. Elton insulting your best friend, and have good times generally. You can also do this at home, even if you have to dance down the hall to lively tunes from your MP3 player. (It’s better than Mary Bennet on the piano.) Make sure to have white soup, negus, and indiscreet conversations, and, ladies, I happen to know that many gentlemen find Regency/square dancing less intimidating than ballroom. Show them diagrams! Let them figure it out!
RPG steps: It’s funny how you never hear “role-playing” and “Jane Austen” in the same sentence, especially when you consider all that fanfic out there. So, if you are really feeling adventurous, I suggest designing some sort of Austen role-playing activity. You could, you know, assign the different parts from a book beforehand, get everyone together, and let them have at it. Sounds sort of like Lost in Austen, doesn’t it? Or, since it’s almost Halloween, why not do a Pride and Prejudice and Zombies flash mob? Everyone decide beforehand whether you’ll be a zombie, a Bennet sister, or an innocent bystander; show up someplace and have it out! Regency zombie battles on the National Mall! I see this happening, people! Serious Austen party-ers will do this in full costume, of course. But watch where you put that sword. You could put someone’s eye out with that thing.
Olympic steps: OK, OK, it’s true that zombies aren’t genuine Austen. But it’s also true that whenever you get together, you are probably having a party pretty close to one Jane Austen wrote! Oh, the food, drink, dancing, and clothes might be different, but I bet the social dynamics are not far off. I know that’s not what you want to hear, though, so I suggest the Jane Austen Olympics! Events can include: the 100-meter Dash Across the Lawn to Find Mr. Bennet, the All-Terrain Walk to Netherfield (points deducted per inch of dirty hem), the Louisa Musgrove Stair-Jumping Contest, the Pairs’ Rainy Hillside Rescue Dance, Fencing Wits, and Conversational Gymnastics (Lizzie’s an odds-on favorite there, clearly), and . . . .
But you see! The possibilities are endless! Now get your corsets on, go out there, and PARTY!!!
Photo credits: ©juzka81. Used through Creative Commons licensing.
As I’ve been reading about food in Jane Austen’s time, I’m amazed at the thought of how a middle class household was fed. Most food items were produced on the estate, and only special items that couldn’t be produced locally (like sugar and tea) were purchased. Unlike my trips to Trader Joe’s, Safeway, and the farmer’s market every few days, they had to live off the land…or make do with whatever they had locked up in the cupboard. Can you imagine locking up sugar and tea? (“Aunt Jane, please please please let me have some sugar!!” “Back away, beeyotch…if you please.”) I, on the other hand, go through many pounds of sugar a year. In fact, I’m downright annoyed when I’m at Trader Joe’s and they only have two-pound bags of sugar. I need at least a five- or ten-pounder with all the baking I like to do.
After much mocking of the odd assortment of foods cooked in Regency times, we’ve arrived at the beginning of my Jane Austen Cooking Odyssey. Naturally, I’ve started with dessert. And what better dessert than something that sounds utterly ridiculous? Syllabub it is! Syllabub was typically served in a half liquid/half froth format (liquid in the bottom of the cup with cream on top) or an entirely frothy format known as “everlasting” syllabub. How romantic! I’ll go with the everlasting…
(Adapted from The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye)
1-3/4 cups heavy cream
1 cup caster (superfine) sugar
1 cup medium-dry white wine
pinch of dry mustard powder
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1. Mix the tablespoon of granulated sugar with half of the lemon zest and set aside.
2. In a deep bowl, mix the heavy cream, caster sugar, wine, mustard powder, lemon juice, and the rest of the lemon zest.
3. Beat the mixture with a electric beater until it is thick and peaks form.
4. Arrange the mixture in dessert glasses and chill overnight. Sprinkle some of the sugar/zest mixture on each serving.
Gentle readers, this stuff is awesome! It’s sweet but not overly sweet (though you might need to get a second opinion on that, as you must have realized by now that I’m a sugar hound). And the wine gives a delightful warmth to the dish. Syllabub is fairly light, so you may want to serve with cookies, fresh berries, or possibly even a simple cake.
Some notes about this particular recipe: I’m not entirely sure what the mustard powder does. (The cookbook states that it “gives body” and that the taste shouldn’t be noticeable. Is that sort of like using cream of tartar used when whipping egg whites?) I doubt it would make much of a difference if you left the mustard out. Also, feel free to serve without chilling. I ate mine right away. Though I’m chilling the leftovers, and I’ll compare the flavor texture tomorrow. Next time I’d like to try using cider (the alcoholic kind of the dry rather than sweet variety) instead of wine.
I also tried this Old English Syllabub recipe from cooks.com, which called for sherry and brandy instead of white wine. Fail. I couldn’t get it to stiffen up properly (that’s what’s in the glass at the top of the photo), and I found the flavor of the sherry and brandy to be a bit too strong. However, if you’re looking for something a little more exotic, you might try Nigella’s Amaretto Syllabub or Turkish Delight Syllabub. (Note to the ladies: I have it on good authority that your husband or significant other would certainly appreciate it if you pretend to be Nigella for an evening. Wear a low-cut v-neck sweater, and talk in a deep, sexy voice about how rich and delicious your cooking is.) In any case, get whipping and delight your closest friends and family or woo a potential suitor with a creamy syllabub!